I was raised Catholic. I know. Shocker. I definitely don’t mention it at every opportunity. Culturally, I’m still really Catholic, but I stopped practising a few years back. The reasons why are lengthy and complex and painful and really not worth going into here. But I was raised on incense and the mass and Latin prayers and an innumerable number of saints and rolling my eyes at Protestants.
I love Catholic imagery. I love the many layered symbolism in colours and flowers and candles. It’s so rich and deep and perfect for poetic inspiration. However, since I am still in the midst of writing a deeply egocentric imperialist with a slight messianic streak…I feel like I’m flirting with blasphemy. Technically, being a non-believer and all, it shouldn’t matter. But you can’t unpick a childhood of worship instantly. So I still have a great deal of respect/reverence for the faith that made me who I am today. It’s not easy to casually disrespect something that part of me still holds sacred.
So, when I did approach mixing and matching (Western European) Catholic imagery and cultural references, I tried to be a little more circumspect. I tried to approach it as blasphemy and draw out some kind of critique from there.
For instance, in Lily and Marigold, the faerie queen you summon is supposed to be reminiscent of Our Lady of Lourdes. She appears next to a stream, surrounded in flowers and dressed in white. The flowers in the poem were mostly chosen invoke/reference Marian mythologies. Lilies symbolise St Mary’s purity, roses her beauty. I heard a legend once that when the holy family fled into Egypt they were attacked by bandits. When the bandits tried to steal Mary’s gold, all they got were the yellow orange flowers, hence marigold. Iris flowers symbolise her sorrow. Foxgloves are just there to remind you that the faerie queen’s poisonous and not to be trusted. (The title, Lily and Marigold is therefore, in effect, sorrow and wealth. Which is kind of on the nose, but you know.)
For a character to fashion herself, and the ritual to summon her, so closely after the most powerful woman in Catholic canon, that speaks to a level of arrogance, no? In courting blasphemy, in fashioning a villain after the literal queen of heaven, I want to draw attention to the level of egocentrism, the excessive pride of said character.
I seldom write about men, so it is unlikely that I will be drawing direct parallels to Jesus any time soon. But I fully intend to keep playing with blasphemy, to skirting as its edges. I will do so from a place of love and respect for the faith/cultural tradition I grew up in, the faith most of my family still practice. But there is too much symbolism there, too many ways to infer and imply meaning, too much history to call upon and reference, for me to forgo it entirely.